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On the Catholic liturgical calendar, February 5 is the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time. In the U.S., where professional football is sometimes referred to as a “religion,” February 5th is the highest holy day of the sporting year: Super Bowl Sunday.
The Super Bowl attracts tens of thousands of fans to the host city, and millions of television viewers, making it the most watched broadcast each year. But it also attracts a sector of violent, organized criminal activity that operates in plain sight without notice: human sex trafficking.
Human trafficking is defined by the United Nations as the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of threat, use of force or other forms of coercion, for the purpose of exploitation.” Sex trafficking is particularly heinous: Young women are abducted and sold into an underworld network where they are forced to engage in sexual activity for no pay, and from which it is extremely difficult to escape.
There is evidence that human trafficking increases where major sporting events are held.
Exact numbers are hard to come by, as trafficking is an underreported crime, but host cities, law enforcement, and civil society are becoming increasingly more aware of it. They are promoting educational campaigns and strengthening laws against trafficking to send a strong message to traffickers: You are not welcome here. If we find you, you will be prosecuted. There is a message for trafficking victims as well: If we find you, you will not be arrested; you will be rescued.
In preparation for Super Bowl LXVI in Indianapolis, 11 congregations of Catholic women joined the fight against human trafficking in a unique way: They decided to use their investments as a means to address human trafficking with Indianapolis area hotels. These 11 congregations belong to CCRIM, the Coalition for Corporate Responsibility in Indiana and Michigan.
CCRIM members bought shares of stock in major hotel chains in order to address the issue of trafficking as shareholders with hotel corporate management, as well as with the local franchises in the Indianapolis area. As shareholders they have a stake in how the business is run, and they decided to work with the hotels to help them recognize and report any incidents of human trafficking.
The sisters set up a database of 220 hotels within a 50-mile radius of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. On January 5, the managers of these hotels received a fax from CCRIM that said, your shareholders want to know: Have your staff members been trained to recognize the signs of human trafficking? Do you have plans in place so your staff members can safely report any trafficking incidents? Do you know who to contact in the Indianapolis area in order to protect the victims and prosecute the traffickers? Would you be willing to make educational materials on trafficking available to your staff and your guests?
For the next 10 days, 40 sisters called the managers to get answers to those questions. Although 20 managers were reluctant or refused to speak to them, they did speak with 200 hotel managers. The results? Seven hotels requested help in setting up a training session, and the sisters linked them to trainers.
Forty-five hotels already had conducted training for their staff members. Ninety-nine hotels asked for the local contact list, which includes the Attorney General’s Office, the Indianapolis police department’s Anti-Trafficking Division, safe houses for victims and 24-hour hotline numbers.
They also asked for informational brochures, provided by the Polaris Project (an initiative of the Department of Health and Human Services) to help their staff and guests recognize the signs of human trafficking. The sisters delivered this information to each manager personally and thanked them for their cooperation in stemming the tide of trafficking at this year’s Super Bowl.
Eleven congregations joined together in prayer and action against human trafficking. Eleven congregations, 200 hotels, and state government officials all worked together to educate themselves and others about a crime that depends on ignorance in order to continue. Together they hope their efforts will “shine a light” on human trafficking and reduce its numbers to a bare minimum during the Super Bowl and beyond.
They hope that Super Bowl Sunday can be a celebration without exploitation. And they hope many others also will view human trafficking as the tragic injustice that it is and feel compelled to take action to end it.
Ann Oestreich, is co-chair of CCRIM and organizer of the Super Bowl Anti-Trafficking Initiative. She serves as congregation justice coordinator for the Sisters of the Holy Cross, Notre Dame, IN